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I was elated by the results of Virginia's 2017 election for the House of Delegates. The level of support for Democratic candidates was amazing. Surely, we'd be able to march into Richmond and make things right. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I realized that despite the overwhelming number of votes against them, the Republican Party still controls the House of Delegates. I set out to figure out why. I pulled data from a variety of sources (please be sure to check my source notes for details) and ran some analysis. It appears to me that gerrymandering will likely keep the House of Delegates in Republican hands for the foreseeable future due to an efficiency gap of nearly 16%. The way that the districts are apportioned means that a very large number of Democratic votes are wasted. The next re-apportionment happens after the 2020 census, but to be able to positively impact that, the Democrats need to control the House of Delegates or the U.S. Supreme Court needs to rule that this type of gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

...continue reading "This Is What Gerrymandering Looks Like in Virginia"

Originally published February 28, 2003

Theodore Roosevelt

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

Iraq Map

The Bush Adminstration has been presenting the Iraq issue as a choice between war or voluntary disarmament by Saddam. Since everyone knows — even the French — that Saddam will never voluntarily disarm, then that means war is the only alternative. Or is it? I happen to think that inspections are going well. They've turned up those missiles and some chemical artillery shells. At the very least, Saddam can't develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) while foreigners are cavorting all across Iraq. Sure, it will take time, but if the real goal is to prevent the use of WMD, then war is the last option you'll want to take.

George W. Bush
Photo by Eric Draper, White House.

And that, I believe, is the crux of the issue: George W Bush doesn't really care whether WMD will be used. He wants war because it will further his goals. What those are, I can only guess: increase his poll numbers, distract the public so his tax cuts and other domestic initiatives can sail through un-opposed, or perhaps he is just a trigger-happy cowboy. I don't know, but it scares the crap out of me.


Dangerous Liaisons
Dangerous Liaisons
Directed by
Stephen Frears
Glenn Close
John Malkovich
December 21, 1988

This movie is on a shortlist of ones that I'll watch repeatedly, like a little kid with a Disney video. Set in pre-revolution, 18th Century France, the movie is based on a contemporaneous novel. The story of social intrigue and deceit could just as easily take place at any point in time from the beginning of history to today (Mean Girls, anyone?). I find it endlessly fascinating even though I am not the type to engage in such behavior. (I probably have more in common with Le Chevalier Danceny than I care to admit.)

What truly grabs my attention, though, is the period portrayed. This movie deserves the Oscars it won for Art Direction and Costume Design (in addition to the Screenplay, another well-deserved award). The depiction of the everyday life of the French nobility is captivating. From the opening scene with the main characters getting ready for their day to the faux good act of the Vicomte de Valmont in saving the peasant from the tax collector, you truly get a sense of the gap between rich and poor of that era. We seem to be heading in that direction today, hopefully, we'll arrest it before we have our own 1789.


I have a secret that's been tearing me apart: I own every album Enya has put out. Ahhhh, now that I've admitted it, I feel so much better. I hope that others, too, can come out and live true to themselves. You shouldn't have to justify your taste in music. And yet, most of society looks down on New Age as a freak of musical nature, that it's but the first step that leads eventually to crystals and weird health care choices, and will put them to sleep. I knew, though, since I was little that something was different about me.

I Blame My Parents

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel performed the soundtrack to my earliest memory, which is still a vivid one. I'm in the back of our blue Buick station wagon, cruising through west Texas. Scarborough Fair is playing on the radio. I see it clearly: desolate countryside, the road bending off to the left in a wide arc.

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

The key here, I believe, is memory. This song was burned in early, it fires off pleasurable neurons whenever I hear it, kept me listening so that later in life, I grew to appreciate the story the lyrics tell. I have found that this song is frequently covered by both new age and folk artists, but it is just one of many great songs on the original album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, which includes Homeward Bound, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) and a mix of other good folk and sixties pop tunes.

...continue reading "Yes, I like New Age Music. You got a f!#%ing problem with that?"

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Grove Press, Inc.
First Black Cat Edition, Second Printing - 1981 - paperback - 415

I fear, in an alternate universe, I may be Ignatius J. Reilly. Perhaps it is my Irish Catholic upbringing that leads me to believe, in my dark moments, that despite my good intentions, I am worth less than a small pile of flea turds. When it gets bad, I break out this book and give it another read. The laughter it induces is enough to bring me out of my funk, but I also realize -- Damn! -- things could be worse.

...continue reading "Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces"

For having only 6 letters, my last name has been pronounced an infinite number of ways. I can still hear Coach Silly Bean (what was his real name, Sylvester? No, wait, I was never on the Cheerios) shouting at me in 7th grade PE:

Laneer, get over here!

la-NEER, get over here!

I'll answer to any, but the following two are the most correct:

...continue reading "How do you pronounce my last name?"

These are the core principles that guide my beliefs.

We are all in this together

We cannot exclude anyone from the benefits our nation confers. All of us, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference or citizenship. True, being a citizen confers certain rights and responsibilities, but not being one doesn't put you beyond the pale.

Let's be careful about using the label "them".

We are the government

There is no other institution that allows all of us to act together. Businesses are beholden to their owners, religions to their god(s).

If we abdicate our responsibilities as citizens, since politics abhors a power vacuum, someone will step in and they will not likely care about everyone.

Consider, too, that since we are the government, the government acts in our name.

Good guys don't shoot first

It's tempting, I know. Holding back means good people will get hurt or killed. I agree, it's sucks in the short term. However, long term, it shows the world who the bad guys are and it makes sure that our wrath, when it is stirred, is properly directed.

This applies domestically as much as on the international scene.

Don't be a dick

We should work to make sure that all of those who need help, get it, even at the cost of some undeserving reaping benefit. I do not want to hurt those who need help in an effort to stick it to the bad actors.

Don't be stupid

Don't let our principles lead us off a cliff. We should constantly evaluate our actions and their impact. If something doesn't seem right, revisit the core principles. Maybe it's an unavoidable situation. Or maybe we need to readjust how we act.



Has this happened to you? Your first meal at a restaurant is enjoyable, maybe even in 5-star territory. You rave about the place to friends and family. You can't wait to go back. And when you do, it, well, kind of sucks. This happens to me more often than not. WTF?

Best Breakfast Ever
Best Breakfast Ever from Sunny Point Cafe in Ashville, NC

First of all, I dread eating somewhere new to me. It's a risk. You have to accept the possibility of failure, something I'm not always willing to do. Sure, I'll do it when I'm on vacation, but it's not like I have much of a choice. In more familiar haunts, though, the good dishes I know call out to me. It's when I get bored that I take the risk.

The First Visit
The First Visit

So, I walk in to a new place. I'm in borderline panic mode. What do I do? Do I seat myself? Who do I talk to? There's too much noise, I can't concentrate? Oh, yes, table for two. I sit down, grab the menu. What the hell does this mean? Why can't they call things by normal names? A burger for $12?!? Ga! What? Yes, I'll have the special. No, just a glass of water, wait, what's on tap?

Then the food comes, it looks wonderful and smells even better. And, damn, it's tasty. Before I know it, my plate is empty. If I'm not eating with my wife, I may even lick the plate.

Maybe that's it. I start with such low expectations that the meal can't help but seem good. When I return, though, I'm more familiar, better able to judge. I notice the lapses in service. This time I'm expecting good food and disappointed when it's not the best I've had.

I still take the risk, though. How else will I find the gems?

Cerritos Pupuseria, A Great Find
Cerritos Pupuseria, A Great Find

Day 43

I saw Johnny Kim today. His impeccable hair maintained even after death. How does he do that?

We were friends with enough touch points to keep in contact year round, but were never really that close.

His wife is hot. Is or was? I'm guessing past tense. We're near his home. If they got him, they got her, and the kids, too, probably. (What about mine? Will I ever know?)

He wandered out there with only a few others. Should I have killed him? Is kill the right word? I don't feel guilty. The world is certainly better off without Johnny and his crew.

I dropped out the tree in which I was enjoying my lunch, perfect array of branches that let me rest comfortably, and adjusted my bandana and goggles to guard against splatter. I aimed to sneak up behind Johnny, not out of fear, I've handled this number before, I just didn't want to see his face when I did it.

I tripped him from behind. Not very sporting, I suppose. With a foot on his back, I took a golf swing with my axe. It is true, he did have a lot of brains. His mates turned when they heard. I took my time with them, practiced some new techniques.

Did I do you a favor, Johnny? Are you in a position to care? It's not as bad as I should have thought. Still, would rather avoid meeting more I know. Knew.

The Colony TV Series
The Colony TV Series

Aired on the Discovery Channel

I was jonesing for more Walking Dead after I finished watching season 3. I couldn't wait for season 4, so in desperation, I followed the "More like..." links and stumbled upon this TV show. It's a reality series that aired before the outbreak. Each season confronted the participants with an end of the world scenario (unknown catastrophe in Season 1, disease in Season 2) and set them loose. I went in with very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I'm shocked that I haven't heard more about this and that it lasted only two seasons.

Before I set forth on a glowing review, let me get the negative out of the way:

  1. Too many useful people on each team.

    In season 1, the least useful person was the marine biologists and I'd still want her on my team. At least in season 2 they had a fashion model who was mostly useless. In real life, out of 10 people, you'd be doing good if 2 of them had useful skills and no more than 5 were dead weight.

  2. The show glosses over the team formation stage.

    I cannot blame the show for this, you have to have a good group to make for interesting TV. In real life, though, the team formation stage is the most critical. Many times teams fell apart or were dysfunctional. The bonding that happens (or not) on first contact is very important. I did like that they subjected the participants to sleep deprivation, hunger and other taxing situations before the show started.

  3. I wish my TEotWaWKI experience was sponsored by Harbor Freight.

    This is a Season 1 issue. It seamed like when they needed a tool, a Harbor Freight labelled crate containing the object just happened to be laying around. At least in the second season, they had to do some serious foraging to find their tools.

These are nitpicks. This show is informative, teaches many helpful skills and it was dramatic. Yes, I know this is a staged show and that the participants are truly not in danger (well maybe not, I read that season 3 has been postponed due to the death of a participant), but some of the emotional scenes ring true with me. Here's why you should watch the show:

  1. How to establish a fresh water supply

    As Mr. Grylls showed us in his Man vs. Wild series, fresh water is a key ingredient to survival. Both seasons showed the participants initially struggling with this. Where do you find it? How do you get it back to the shelter? Once there, how do you make it safe to drink? The answer to that last question alone makes this show worthwhile.

  2. How to generate electricity

    To electrify or not was a source for debate throughout TEotWaWKI. The infrastructure needed even for a minimal flow of current mitigates against mobility. It doesn't make sense if your shelter will be temporary and your mode of transportation is by foot or bike. Also, if you're able to scrounge supplies and aren't making things from scratch, your demand for juice won't be as strong. When you do find yourself in a situation requiring a regular supply, though, both seasons demonstrate how you can create your own and store it.

  3. How to work with butt-heads

    Michael from Season 1 is a classic case. He is defensive and quick to see insult in just about everything you say. It would be tempting to give him the boot. But he has an array of skills that would be most useful. Suck it up and see what you can do to put those like him at ease.

These are just a few. They also cover food gathering, security and other useful tidbits. And let me reiterate the drama. From losing team members to the stress from hunger and sleep deprivation, this is good TV.